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Big Valley plays host to model train enthusiasts

Calgary Club returns to the Big Valley Arena
The train models are highly detailed. (Carson Ellis photo)

By Carson Ellis

For the Stettler Independent

The Calgary Free-mo train club was on hand in Big Valley from August 11-13. The club was set up in the Big Valley arena with admission being by donation.

Calgary Free-mo is primarily comprised of members from all over Alberta, with some members coming in from Saskatchewan, B.C., and some even as far as Idaho. The club is for model railroad enthusiasts who build on an HO scale.

The Calgary-based club does several setups yearly, including the Calgary Train Show and the Great Edmonton Train Show. They have been coming to Big Valley for several years as well, except for during COVID.

Club member Paul Zboya has been with the Calgary club for approximately eight years. He says he got his first train kit when he was a kid, and he would run it for hours on end. Often times his parents couldn’t get him to go to bed because he hated to leave the set.

Zboya explains that the displays are made up of segments that each member designs and builds at home; many of them are part of the member’s own setup. The segments are then disassembled and brought to the club displays.

Each segment is designed within certain parameters so that it fits together upon arrival meaning that each display is different from the ones before it, depending on who shows up and how they are able to place their segments. The styles and focus of each segment are different as well, depending on the members’ interests.

The Free-mo members arrived Thursday and began setting up the layout. Zboya says it’s an intricate process that involves levelling out the different sections and connecting the wiring so all the trains can complete the layout.

Each segment has plug-ins for the members to connect their remotes to so they can be close to their train as they move it around the display.

One thing that varies depending on how the segment is designed is that some of the track switches are electric, while others are manual; sometimes other members have to scout ahead to make sure that modellers moving their train around don’t collide with other trains moving about, or ones parked at different points.

Zboya, who worked for several years for Canadian Pacific as a brakeman, says that the club has people in their sixties and members in their twenties. One of the younger members is his son.

He says the club is always well-received when they come to Big Valley; they especially enjoy being there when the Alberta Prairie Steam Tours stops in town so that the passengers can see the setup.

He says that all the members love interacting with visitors, and are happy whether it’s one or two visitors at a time or a full crowd.

“We love trains and we love people,” Zboya said.

A portion of the Calgary Free-mo train club setup in Big Valley. (Carson Ellis photo)